Nearly 530 Americans a day used methamphetamine for the first time in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. As a potent stimulant drug, trying meth even once could quickly lead to patterns of abuse and addiction.
In this same year, just under one million Americans had a methamphetamine use disorder. This means they either abused or were dependent on methamphetamine.
Abuse of methamphetamine can lead to mental and physical health problems, many of which can be severe. The risks and dangers of meth abuse include addiction, withdrawal, organ damage, psychosis, seizures, and deadly overdose.
Fortunately, comprehensive methamphetamine addiction treatment is available. By receiving the right care, a person is better protected from these risks.
Methamphetamine drug rehab programs teach clients valuable coping and relapse prevention skills. These and other sober living skills can help a person maintain long-term sobriety.
Methamphetamine, also referred to as meth, is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug. Stimulant drugs like meth are often called uppers, due to the way they stimulate the brain and central nervous system.
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Two forms of methamphetamine are abused today, illicit and prescription methamphetamine (Desoxyn). In certain cases, meth may be mixed with other substances to enhance its effects.
When abused, a person may inject, smoke, snort or swallow the drug. When Desoxyn is abused, a person may misuse a personal prescription or use someone else’s for the purpose of self-medication or creating a euphoric state.
Meth’s effects are similar to its parent drug, amphetamine. Despite this similarity, when the same dose of each is used, significantly larger quantities of meth reach the brain. For this reason, meth has more potent stimulant properties.
When compared to amphetamine, meth’s effects last longer and impact the central nervous system in a more harmful way. Meth is also metabolized more slowly than cocaine. Because of this, the high from meth can last longer than the high from coke.
Due to these characteristics, meth may be an attractive alternative for people who abuse other stimulant drugs. These qualities also give meth a high potential for abuse, a fact that has resulted in meth being classified by the DEA as a Schedule II stimulant.
Abuse of Schedule II drugs such as meth can result in severe physical and psychological dependence. Due to this, methamphetamine addiction can be hard to overcome without treatment.
Illicit meth is primarily manufactured and distributed throughout the United States by Mexican drug trafficking organizations, however, meth labs are located throughout the US.
Illicit meth takes the form of a liquid, powder or rock and is referred to as:
- crystal meth
Illicit methamphetamine is far stronger than its prescription counterpart, Desoxyn. Even though Desoxyn is weaker, it can still be abused in a way that is both harmful and a risk factor for addiction.
Desoxyn is an oral tablet that is used as a treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity. In situations of abuse, it may be used as a performance-enhancing drug to improve academic or professional performance or to produce a high.
Meth may also be combined with caffeine in a tablet called yaba. Yaba can contain from 25 to 35 mg of methamphetamine and 45 to 65 mg of caffeine.
Popular at raves and techno parties, these bright-colored and flavored tablets can make the drug appear less harmful than it really is. Like meth, yaba abuse is dangerous and can lead to addiction and serious health problems.
Methamphetamine Abuse Signs And Symptoms
When a person is abusing or addicted to methamphetamine, their behaviors will likely begin to change to accommodate finding the drug, using the drug and/or coping with its damaging effects.
As this occurs, an individual may exhibit the following signs and symptoms of a methamphetamine use disorder, such as when a person:
- consumes meth more frequently or in a higher dose than they planned
- struggles to quit or reduce the amount they take, even though they’re tried several times before
- spends large amounts of time using meth or feeling sick from taking it
- experiences overwhelming urges and cravings to use meth
- struggles at home, school or work due to patterns of meth abuse
- continues to take meth even though they know it’s harming their relationships
- no longer gets pleasure from favorite hobbies or recreational activities
- finds themselves in risky situations, such as unsafe sex, while under the influence of meth
- keeps taking meth even after realizing it’s harming their mental health
- develops a tolerance and needs more meth to create the effects a smaller dose once created
- goes into withdrawal if they quit meth cold turkey or significantly reduce their dose
When a person has become tolerant to meth and can no longer experience the feelings they desire, they may change their behaviors to intensify the feelings the drug produces, such as by:
- taking a higher dose of the drug
- using the drug more frequently
- changing the way they take the drug
In order to take meth, a person must have paraphernalia or equipment to use the drug.
Individuals who smoke the drug may use a pipe, foil or even a lightbulb. People who inject the drug intravenously may have needles, syringes or a spoon to liquify the meth in. To snort the drug, a person may straws or rolled-up dollar bills on hand.
Methamphetamine Abuse Short-Term Effects
As an upper, meth stimulates the central nervous system and brain, an effect that can cause physical and mental processes to speed up.
Even small amounts of meth can create a powerful effect, quickly. The way the drug is used can alter the pleasurable feelings a person experiences. It can also change how long the effects of meth last for.
Smoking or injecting the drug elicits an intense but brief rush that can last from five minutes to a half hour. On the other hand, instead of a rush, snorting or swallowing the drug can lead to a high that may last up to 12 hours.
Large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine are released in the brain when meth is abused. Dopamine plays an important role in regulating the brain’s sense of reward and pleasure. These dopamine surges reinforce or teach the brain to continue taking meth for this feel-good effect.
As this sense of euphoria sets in, a person may have surges of energy and become more physically active. Some people may get caught up in repetitive and meaningless tasks as well.
Not all of meth’s short-term effects are pleasurable. When a person’s central nervous system is working harder, their blood pressure, heart, respiratory and temperature rates can climb, sometimes to dangerous levels. Convulsions, seizures, and overdose can occur at this time.
Taking meth can also create the following uncomfortable physical effects, such as:
- dilated pupils
- dry mouth
- heavy sweating
- loss of appetite
- uncontrollable jaw clenching
Short-term mental side effects of meth include irritability, paranoia, and unpredictable behaviors.
Methamphetamine Abuse Long-Term Effects
People often take meth in binges, which means they take another dose shortly after the last. The most severe form of binging is known as a run. During a meth run, a person may have insomnia and not sleep or eat for several days while taking the drug.
People who abuse meth on a chronic basis may have psychotic episodes that include aggression, delusions, mood disturbances, paranoia, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Some people may feel as if they have insects crawling on or beneath their skin, an effect referred to as “crank bugs” or “meth mites.”
Long-term abuse of meth can drastically change a person’s appearance by causing extreme weight loss, skin problems, and severe dental problems.
People who take meth chronically frequently have acne, pale skin, and skin infections. They may also have sores from picking at their skin to get the “crank bugs” out.
Chronic meth abuse can cause major dental problems that are known as “meth mouth.” This can include cracked teeth, severe tooth decay, and tooth loss.
These issues result from a combination of problems caused by meth abuse, such as nutritional deficiencies, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, and teeth grinding and clenching caused by abuse.
Methamphetamine Abuse Risks And Dangers
The dangers of injecting, smoking or snorting (insufflation) meth can vary and be dependent on the route of administration. All forms of abuse carry an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C, however, people who share dirty needles can face an even higher risk.
Brain damage from meth may happen after long-term use, including structural changes that can affect emotion and memory. This damage may be so severe, that a person develops effects that resemble Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Diseases.
Damage to major organs can also occur, including kidney damage, liver damage, lung disease and infections of the heart. Dehydration, malnourishment and recurrent infections from a weakened immune system may also accompany long-term meth use.
After long-term, regular use, severe mental health problems, such as chronic anxiety may arise. Some people have psychotic symptoms for months or years after abstinence from meth. Methamphetamine psychosis may be triggered by high amounts of stress.
Using meth, especially after a meth run, can result in intense frustration and irritability, paranoia, mental instability, and erratic behavior, a state sometimes referred to as “tweaking.” Tweakers can become violent and paranoid. In certain cases, paranoia can lead to homicidal or suicidal thoughts.
Taking meth while pregnant can cause premature birth. It can also expose the developing child to serious birth defects, such as brain abnormalities, cardiac defects, and cleft palate.
Methamphetamine Overdose Signs And Symptoms
In 2017, out of all drug overdose deaths, nearly 15 percent involved methamphetamine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Being able to spot the signs of methamphetamine overdose could help to save a life.
Signs and symptoms of methamphetamine overdose are:
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid breathing
- stomach cramps
If a methamphetamine overdose is suspected, emergency medical services should be contacted.
Methamphetamine Overdose Risks And Dangers
When a person takes a high dose of meth, their body temperature may rise to dangerously high levels, a state referred to as hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia can cause:
- cardiovascular collapse
- heart attack
- multiple organ problems
Hyperthermia can be deadly and result from a number of these complications. According to the DailyMed, convulsions and coma typically occur before a fatal methamphetamine poisoning.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal Signs And Symptoms
In a dependent state, a person may develop withdrawal if they stop taking meth or drastically reduce their dose.
Withdrawal from meth can cause a number of uncomfortable and intense symptoms, including:
- extreme cravings
- overwhelming depression
Without professional help, these symptoms may become so severe that a person uses meth to reduce them.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal And Detox Programs
Though withdrawal can be treated in an outpatient detoxification program for meth, individuals who are at high risk for severe withdrawal may be better treated in an inpatient detox program for meth addiction.
While there aren’t any FDA-approved medications for methamphetamine dependence, medications may be used to reduce certain withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.
Nutritional support and IV fluid hydration may also be administered to counteract the malnourishment and dehydration caused by meth abuse.
The 24-hour oversight and medical care provided in an inpatient medical detox program for meth may be recommended for a person who needs to be monitored for suicidal thoughts due to intense depression. This constant supervision also helps to protect against relapse.
Finding A Methamphetamine Inpatient Drug Rehab Program
Due to its potency, abuse of methamphetamine can easily cause major addiction. Because of this, an inpatient drug rehab program for meth may be a better option for people who are severely addicted or who have frequently relapsed.
Many people who abuse meth frequently abuse other drugs, such as alcohol or heroin. Inpatient or residential addiction treatment programs are generally better equipped to treat polydrug abuse and addiction.
A large number of people who suffer from a substance use disorder have a mental illness and meth is no exception. Some, like anxiety, depression, and psychosis may be caused by meth abuse. When addiction occurs with a mental health disorder it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.
An inpatient dual diagnosis addiction treatment program for meth can help a person find healing from both addiction and mental health problems.
Though there aren’t any FDA-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction at this time, behavioral therapies may be an effective treatment for meth addiction.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment for methamphetamine addiction. This and other behavioral therapies can be an integral part of dual diagnosis treatment as well.
Freedom from methamphetamine addiction is possible. Comprehensive treatment can help a person reclaim their life and find sobriety.
Contact TreehouseRehab.org now for more info on meth abuse, addiction, and treatment options.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research — Methamphetamine, Yaba
- DailyMed — LABEL: DESOXYN- methamphetamine hydrochloride tablet
- MedlinePlus — Methamphetamine, Methamphetamine overdose
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Methamphetamine: Research Report Series, What is Methamphetamine?
- New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services — Yaba
- U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency — Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide 2017 Edition
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- US National Library of Medicine — Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects